18 October 2013


Of all the places I ever wanted to be for my birthday, Bangkok did not make the list. In fact, of all the places in Thailand I would have liked to visit, Bangkok was near the bottom. It’s not that I had anything against the city, Bangkok just wasn’t a priority. I had heard stories about partying, lady boys and ping pong balls and, frankly, I didn’t want any part of it. But, when two friends planned a trip for October that just happened to fall on my birthday, I decided to give the city some consideration.

My thought process went like this: Hmmm…..Bangkok…I don’t really want to go to Bangkok…….But it’s my birthday...And I would be with Nic and Megan…..So….sit in PNG, where I have no friends, on my birthday, or go to Bangkok and have an amazing meal with all of my friends…Hmmm….I pick friends.

There were many changes to the trip between the planning stage and the actual weekend. Danielle, Megan’s sister, happened to be in Asia so she popped in for the weekend while Nic and Duncan did not come along, and Paul was only able to drop in for one evening. Thankfully, that evening was my birthday and he was in town in time for my birthday dinner, so I was completely blessed.

Megan, Troy and I took a Thursday evening flight and spent our first evening enjoying the Royal Orchid Sheraton Hotel. We checked into our rooms and then went downstairs for some drinks and dinner. I ate my weight in food from nearly every section of the fabulous dinner buffet and I enjoyed every minute of it – especially the minutes consuming pomegranate martinis and mini fruit tarts.

Friday morning, after again dominating the hotel buffet, we set out to explore Bangkok, and I quickly realized how glad I was to experience the city. Bangkok was described by one expat as the second world, and I suppose I agree. Though there is a mix of old world, simple communities and modern structures and conveniences, the city reminds me of what I think Singapore would have been like in the 1960s.

The buildings were for the most part older and not well maintained; more modern buildings and fixtures were placed amidst the aged edifices. Roads, highways and elevated trains were added to enhance transportation options but the roads are not conducive to the population. Traffic jams begin in mid-afternoon and continue well into the evening.

Traffic lights are few compared to most cities and when one catches a red light, minutes will pass before the light changes to green. At one point during our trip, when I was about to die in the back of a cab because I could not just sit there any longer, we looked over and saw in the car next to us a man behind the wheel, his arms propped on the steering wheel holding an open book. The man was reading a book. That’s how bad the traffic is in Bangkok.

Another popular transportation choice that helps people avoid the roads is the water taxi. 

This was my view from the 17th floor of the Royal Orchid Sheraton Hotel

Our hotel, like most along the river, offered a free boat to a train and water taxi stop. Friday morning we made our way down the river to the nearest water taxi stop and then headed back up river toward a flower market. The trip up river reminded me of my time in Dubai, viewing the sites from the water.

The river was dirty and had many types of boats and other things floating or motoring along but it certainly provides an efficient transportation solution - and it's a nice ride. 

A view of the eastern side of the river on our way down to the water taxi station

Part of the water taxi commuter area

Our water taxi that took us back up stream; I am pretty sure the random stranger who sat next to me paid my ticket

Water taxi stop

The Shangri-La Hotel, where Paul and I stayed on my birthday

The Royal Orchid Sheraton Hotel, where I stayed Thursday through Saturday

In some places, like this area, the water seemed to bit a bit higher than usual

Most of Bangkok looks like this, even in the urban areas

Six stops later, we disembarked and hit the Bangkok streets in search of flowers. We found them – and a lot more goodies – offered at one of Bangkok’s many markets. Unfortunately, it seems my flower market photos have been lost.

The market was situated on the bottom level of what was likely a residential area. The streets were narrow and crammed with crowds of people, motor bikes, workers wheeling large baskets and a few cars that pushed their way through the busy streets.

Flowers were sold in abundance, including colors of orchids we did not know existed – neon greens and deep blue hues. Some of the flower stalls had workers placing the flowers on strings and into bags, likely to be used for religious purposes or in celebration.

In addition to flowers, fruits and vegetables were numerous and we found quite a few items that we did not recognize. One stall had a basket filled with odd-shaped reddish brown prickly fruit that reminded us of a stretched rambutan. Thanks to a Google image search, I can report that we happened upon a sala fruit. Had the woman running the stall been nice to us, we may have learned that while in Thailand but she gave us the stink eye, snapped and shooed us off the moment we went to ask her the name of the item and request that we buy and try a piece of the strange fruit. Apparently she didn’t want our money.

We did get a lot of glances from the local people since we were there mainly to take photos and not to purchase any of the offerings that abounded around us. Some stall owners and workers were very welcoming, even allowing us to explore their behind-the-scenes operations. A group of younger women invited us into their ginger stall when they noticed us gawking at their work. They were thinly slicing over and over again mounds of fresh ginger.

They waved us back, allowed us to take photos and gave us each a slice of the freshest ginger I had ever tasted. Instead of taking a small bite and allowing the flavors to take over my taste buds, I ate the whole sliver and WOW that was some fresh ginger. My mouth burned a bit from the bite associated with raw ginger.

We continued to wander and found some of the stall owners creating their own feasts on large woks behind the stalls. We saw beautiful lettuce and giant pea pods that were 12 to 14 inches in length. The peas were roughly quarter sized.

Once we had our fill of the market, we headed out in search of one of the largest Buddhas I might ever see.

No comments: